July 6, 2015
The Dolomites is another one of the Italian regions that I’ve heard about for years and has been relatively high on my list of must see places, but we just hadn’t made it there yet – that is until now. After our first hike today I’m blown away. Maybe I kept my expectations low, just in case, or maybe the mountains in this part of the Italian Alps are just that magical.
The Val Gardena is one of Europe’s top ski destinations and is therefore even more crowded in the winter than in summer. Small towns full of German style chalets line the motorway. A handy bus service takes trekkers to numerous trail heads and gondolas. In fact with so many gondolas and ski lifts in service, hiking can be adjusted to most fitness levels simply by avoiding those killer uphill slogs by taking the gondola instead. For those looking for more adventure, there are numerous tough trails as well including some that require technical climbing skills.
Our friendly hotel desk clerk, Peter, gave us a free, fairly detailed map that indicated all the hiking trails in this region of the Dolomites with the ski lifts, buses and rifugios also marked. With so many services this really is hiking Disneyland style. It may not appeal to the wilderness purist, but I love seeing how another culture interprets the problems of protecting their natural resources and at the same time making them accessible to the people that want to visit them.
For our first day of hiking Peter recommended the loop hike around Sassopiatto-Sassolungo, starting at Sella Pass, about a 45 minute bus ride from our hotel in Ortisei. The first bus leaves from the center of town just after 8AM.
This hike is also listed as #39, Circumnavigating the Sassopiatto-Sassolungo in the Cicerone Guide, Shorter Walks in the Dolomites.
Distance: 18km/11.2 miles
Ascent: 850 meters
The morning started a bit hazy due to a heat wave this week. Peter says that he has only seen it this hot a few times in the last 25 years. I don’t know that I believe that, but it does seem hot for the mountains with temperatures over 30° Celsius in town at the base of the mountains. The hiking temperature, however, was warm but not uncomfortable, maybe reaching 25° or so in the afternoon.
We started the trail out of Sella Pass heading southwest towards Rifugio F August. Walking with the sun at our back, this turned out to be a good direction to tackle this loop. The morning light ahead of us made for good photos and at the end of the hike the trail on the east side of the peaks was somewhat shaded by the massive rock formations above. By the time we reached eastern edge of the loop, the haze had somewhat cleared with great views out to the east.
The trail has a fair amount of up and down, but nothing too strenuous or too long. We did the entire, loop including stopping for a late lunch at Refugio Comici, in 6 hours.
Note that while the first half of the trail has easy access to a number of rifugios the second half does not. Therefore, plan to bring food with you or be prepared to walk a ways to a rifugio for lunch.
Lunch at Rifugio Comici was a lovely choice. Located close to the return point, about 45 minutes to go before Sella Pass, the rifigio boasts great mountain and valley views. The restaurant offers a self-service option or a traditional restaurant with upscale food. While a tad expensive – you’re paying for those awesome views – the quality of the food is good. The cheese platter and a mixed salad along with a small beer hit the spot.
The one down side of this trail and I imagine of many trails in the area is that they are slippery due to lots of loose gravel. Hiking poles are a big advantage.